I got another song for Jonas. It is called “Eternal Flame.” It is from one of my new tapes. The Bangles. I also got Samantha Fox.
The musical miseducation continues…
Actually, I still listen to The Bangles once every so often. Music is a powerful thing, and was especially so for me as an eleven-year-old nursing a hardcore unrequited crush on someone she hadn’t spoken to in years. At the time, I thought Susanna Hoffs knew my heart better than I did. When I heard “Eternal Flame” in the late 80’s, I was blown away by the vulnerability and wistfulness of the song. I marveled at lyrics like “Say my name, the sun shines through the rain/A whole life so lonely, and then you come and ease the pain.” Nevermind that the song implied a real relationship, whereas the few times Jonas actually said my name, it was to get me to stop talking during assembly.
Some bands from the 80’s fade away and are worth being forgotten, but I think The Bangles were a talented group with some solid tuned and I stand by my appreciation of them. And while I don’t have them in the same heavy rotation I did 20 years ago, I do still get a kick out of “Walk Like an Egyptian” when I play Dance Dance Revolution (in case you had any doubt that I am still dorky today).
As for Samantha Fox… yeah, I’ll take that shame. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I didn’t really have anyone around with edgy music knowledge to guide me, only what was on Casey’s Top 40. Though even if there was someone, I don’t know how far they would have gotten considering my soft spot for bubblegum pop back then.
The Samantha Fox song that really hooked me was “Naughty Girls (Need Love Too),” which I didn’t realize until much later was something of a slutty girl anthem. I also didn’t know right away that she was a topless model in England, which I found mildly scandalous but not all that surprising considering her first hit in America was called “Touch Me (I Want Your Body).” Fox’s overt sexuality was something I found intimidating and unappealing, but oddly intriguing. I couldn’t relate to her the way I could to someone like Debbie Gibson, and I didn’t idolize her style the way I did Cyndi Lauper’s. I liked her, but I didn’t love her. And at such a young age, listening to her suggestive lyrics was kind of like the musical equivalent of reading V.C. Andrews. It was ultimately harmless, but it made me feel like I was getting away with something at the time.
It is “Spring Break”! This is great! 11 days of no homework and freedom. I am on a diet.
The aforementioned freedom clearly did not extend to the fridge and food cupboards.
I went on my first diet when I was ten years old. My mother had recently lost 80 pounds, and along with a sensible diet and consistent exercise, she credited a tea she drank in helping her lose the weight. It was made by a company called Sunrider and claimed to help cleanse the system and rid the body of fat and toxins.
At ten years old, I only needed to lose five pounds. Athletics weren’t my thing, and I was more likely to spend hours reading than running around outside. In terms of diet, mine wasn’t the healthiest. Russian cuisine involves big portions and lots of meats, starches, and other creamy/heavy foods (have you ever had Chicken Kiev? It’s a piece of breaded chicken that has been wrapped around a stick of butter). While Mom was eating more salads, Dad still made sure we had plenty of salami, bagels, and calorie-heavy Russian foods on hand. And let’s not forget those occasional trips to Beefsteak Charlie’s and McDonald’s.
Genetically, I come from hearty Eastern European stock and by age ten, I had a bit of baby fat. I saw Mom had shed her grownup fat drinking the Sunrider tea, so I decided to try it myself. And the following year, when I gained back the few pounds I shed, I decided to give it another go.
Let’s talk about this Sunrider tea. It came in giant canisters in powder form that Mom ordered over the phone. It was easy enough to make once you knew the tea-water ratio, but drinking the stuff is another story. Imagine unsweetened iced tea that’s been brewed with a bunch of sweaty socks and a few heaping spoonfuls of dirt, to give it a distinct gritty aftertaste. That’s about how terrible this tea tasted. Adding sugar defeated the point of its dietary effects though it was slightly less bitter warm than it was cold. Drinking about two quarts a day was necessary in order to reap the full weight loss benefits.
Why would anybody drink such a horrible concoction, you ask? Because you could still eat pretty much what you want and it would help you lose weight. Aren’t those the best diets of all?
I probably chose spring break so that I wouldn’t have to lug giant plastic containers of gross tea to school with me. Drinking the bulk of the tea by mid-day was recommended, so I’d take sips during class and peed at least once an hour. I also probably grimaced the entire time I drank the stuff, so it was easier to make faces and take frequent bathroom breaks in the privacy of my own home.
Dieting at such a young age was not a good idea, especially since when the tea was gone, the weight eventually came back on, but I was none the wiser on proper fitness and nutrition. Of course it was less about nourishment and more about body image and looking a certain way. I was told at a very early age that being heavy would make life harder for me, so I struggled against it. I still struggle. That Sunrider tea was just the beginning.
For some reason, despite keeping up with regular entries to the composition book journal, I still wrote in the Hello Kitty diary from time to time. It had three sections of pages: pink, then yellow, then blue. I think the completist in me was determined not to waste paper and make it to the blue pages, though I never even made it out of the pink ones. I ended up mostly sticking with the composition book, but these rare entries show a snapshot of where I was at the time with less filler (despite the repetition of content). A prime example:
I don’t like Charles anymore (he’s a pain in the !?!?!?) but I am madly in love with George. But the good thing is I think he also likes me! I hope he asks me out and that my parents will let me go out with him.
I still love Jonas and a lot!!! But I know it’s impossible for anything to happen with us, but me and George have a chance to get something started.
Me and Marcela (the bitch) are not friends anymore because she walked out on my birthday party which went even better without her.
-Bye- (4 now)
The last time I mentioned George was back in November, 1989, when he started to tell me something that I suspected was a confession of love (or at the very least, strong like). Despite rarely mentioning him in the other journal, I evidently still carried this torch for my opponent to the vice presidential race of our elementary school. What baffles me today is how I interpreted his ambivalence back then as reciprocated interest. Good thing you can cut an eleven-year-old some slack for being clueless in matters of dating (as for later years…well, we have plenty of time before we get to those comedies/tragedies of errors).
And Jonas. Oy, again with the cute third grade hall monitor. I’m awed and embarrassed at how many entries there are in both diaries devoted to Jonas, years after he graduated and long after I randomly saw him at the movies. (I’m also editing a lot of them out of this blog… you’re welcome). At the very least, I was aware of the futility of any relationship. It’s kinda difficult to “get something started” when you never see the person you allegedly love “and a lot.”
I know it seems like I throw around the word “love” a lot in my diaries, and I do, but let’s review a list of some of the other people I “loved” at the time (parents notwithstanding): Debbie Gibson, Corey Haim, Cyndi Lauper, Stacy Q, Blair from The Facts of Life, and Madison the mermaid (as portrayed by Daryl Hannah in Splash). Need I say more?
A few days ago I saw the movie Beaches with Rose and it was the best. My favorite movies are: Flowers in the Attic, Beaches, Big and License to Drive.
[Written in the margin:] I ♥ COREY Haim
How I wish I made a list of favorite movies like this every year while growing up. And books, at the top of which would have also been Flowers in the Attic (even though it was adapted into a sub-par movie, I still enjoyed it).
Reading V.C. Andrews novels was a rite of passage for young girls in the 1980’s (and maybe beyond?). The first time I came across these books I was nine and overheard a couple of girls talking about the plot of one of the sequels to Flowers in the Attic– either Petals on the Wind or If There be Thorns (gotta love the melodramatic garden-themed titles). When I expressed curiosity about the story, they said I was too young for those books. Which of course led me to seek out all of Andrews’ novels during my next library visit.
The books of V.C. Andrews have a haunting charm but also a creepiness in their themes. There’s usually a rags-to-riches story chock full of dark family secrets (rape, torture, murder, you name it). Then there is often some incest thrown in for good measure. Sometimes it’s unintentional, like cousins falling in love who don’t realize they’re related until one of the aforementioned family secrets is exposed. Sometimes it’s a flat out we’re-related-but-I-have-the-hots-for-you-anyway thing.
All the sex, murder, and mayhem chronicled in these books was probably not appropriate for young girls, and yet I can’t think of anyone who read the novels beyond their early teens. Flowers in the Attic is something of a coming-of-age guilty pleasure classic. The plot revolves around four siblings who are hidden away in their wealthy grandmother’s enormous attic for several years. There’s something fascinating and oddly romantic about their imprisonment, the way they cope with being locked up, and (spoiler alert) the way they ultimately escape. I always wanted to play around in an attic full of trunks containing old clothes and other antique accouterments (though not as much as I wanted to be a Goonie and hunt for buried treasure).
As for Corey Haim, what can I say… the eleven-year-old heart wants what it wants. After being thoroughly charmed by the him in The Lost Boys and License to Drive I developed a massive crush on the young actor. While his wise-cracking best friend Corey Feldman was arguably funnier, I found his habit of dressing like Michael Jackson bizarre and did not find him cute at all. My heart belonged to one Corey only and his name was Haim. This childhood obsession devotion led me to wallpaper a wall of my room with dozens of pictures of the teen heart-throb with carefully-torn pages from Tiger Beat, Bop, and other magazines dedicated to the worship of pretty young pop culture icons.
One of the things I loved best about Corey was his penchant for changing hair colors (a habit I would pick up within the next few years). In one photo he might have gelled back brown hair; in another he’d be edgier with black spiky hair; in yet another picture the hair would be red and artfully coiffed. The colors changed but the presence of copious amounts of hair product was a common thread. As we know, in the 198o’s cool hair equaled BIG hair, and Haim’s tresses defied gravity with the best of them. Oh, and his acting wasn’t bad either.
It wouldn’t be long before rumors of Corey Haim’s drug use started floating around. I wrote him a fan letter telling him that I was concerned about these rumors, and that my love would help him through any dark days, but he either did not read my letter or chose to ignore it. In later years, his addiction would lead to him selling his hair and teeth on eBay which I frankly still can’t bear to think about.
Instead, let’s focus on early 1989, when my wall of Corey was still glossy and my innocence was being only mildly tarnished by reading books I shouldn’t have been reading. It was a simpler time, a happier time.
I went to Pennsilvania and it was fun. There was a boy my age there named Wallace who gave me a tape. Tiffany.
Tomorrow night I am going to sleep over Rose’s and stay at her house for Thursday and Friday. I am not really mad at Rose but we get along pretty well.
Today we are going on a trip to prospect park. I am going to be partners with Nisa and Jessica.
I am glad things are working out well for me.
I still remember that cassette, covered with green and blue marker squiggles to the point where you could barely make out the song titles. That weekend, I played that Tiffany tape so many times, I think by the end of my stay Wallace was happy for me to take it off his hands. I wouldn’t be surprised if to this day he shudders every time he hears “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
There have been numerous pop culture debates over the years. Coke vs Pepsi. PC vs Mac. In terms of music there’s been The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones and Blur vs Oasis. In the late 1980s there was a media imposed rivalry among two teen pop sensations: Debbie Gibson vs Tiffany.
Back then, numerous teenybopper magazines had charts comparing the blonde from Long Island and the redhead who got her start singing in shopping malls. As if we had to choose. While I discovered Debbie Gibson first, I wore out my copy of Out of the Blue and was thrilled to find another singer in the same vein. Back then, my main source for discovering music was Casey’s Top 40, which could be tedious considering all the commercials, the hit songs I wasn’t crazy about, and all those request letters Casey Kasem read on the air. Being handed a tape that contained songs I instantly loved was like magic.
While I have a tendency to be pretty damn gullible, I saw the Debbie Gibson versus Tiffany debate for the marketing ploy that it was. Why did one have to be better than the other? Why did we have to choose between them? Yes, Gibson wrote her own songs and had more Top 10 hits, but Tiffany had a bit of an edgy rasp to her voice and wasn’t afraid to sing her guts out to make “Could’ve Been” the heart-wrenching ballad that it was. Tiffany also gets bonus points for doing a cover of U2’s “New Year’s Day” with Front Line Assembly in the late 199o’s.
In the end, Debbie Gibson may have had more career longevity, but both she and Tiffany have a special place in my childhood and musical history. So let’s call it a tie.
On Friday I went to see the movie Twins with my parents. It was so much fun. We got pop-corn an ice cream and we played video games.
I had a real blast.
Me and Nisa are now as close as we were.
Rose and me sort of had a fight. We are still ok friends though I guess.
I just hope she does not get her mother involved in this.
The first movie my parents took me to see when we immigrated to America in 1982 was Splash. I fell in love with movies then and there. (I also decided I wanted to be a mermaid, despite the inconvenience in modern New York, especially when shady characters played by Eugene Levy were hunting you.) To this day, going to the movies is a treat for me, from the snacks to the previews to the hush that falls upon the audience when the opening credits roll.
Growing up, going to the movies was one of the main ways my parents and I bonded. We were amazed by the scenes that unfolded before us in darkened theaters and amazed by the snack counters. Much in the same way Beefsteak Charlie’s taught us eating unlimited plates of shrimp was okay, movie theaters taught us that gorging ourselves on tubs of popcorn and sodas the size of my torso was perfectly acceptable. It was the American way.
While I was quick to segue from my movie outing to my latest trouble with Nisa and Emily, let’s forget the friend drama for a moment and talk real drama. Let’s talk Arnold.
Most people who know me are surprised to find that I have a deep affection for the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ask about my favorite films and I’ll mention a string of foreign/indie/arty/classic titles. But no matter how much of a film snob I become when discussing Felinni, Lynch, or Lubitch, the mere mention of an Arnold movie will make me light up with a different kind of enthusiasm.
I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this Austrian body-builder-turned-actor-turned-politician. Maybe because he was also Eastern European, and showed us how much an immigrant can accomplish in America. More likely, it was the fact that movies like Commando and Pretador were sheer thrill rides, but then he could turn his intimidating physique into a vehicle for comedy in movies like Twins and Kindergarten Cop. Sometimes the action and humor blended seamlessly and you got a movie like True Lies.
Generally, I prefer Arnold in the more dramatic roles, like the Terminator films and Total Recall. I didn’t even mind Eraser much (especially when a panicked Vanessa Williams scolds Arnold for being late in the middle of a shootout and he deadpans, “Traffic”). There’s something about his big hulking form and thick accent that I find thoroughly endearing. Watching him on film, Arnold has a vaguely bewildered air to him. As if he isn’t sure how he ended up a movie set, but decides early on that he is going to kick as much ass as possible while he’s there. And he does.
I haven’t kept up with his career as governor, but I have to admit I miss seeing the big lug on the big screen. Today’s blockbusters star special effects more than they do action heroes. Arnold was a true action icon. Despite his sense of humor, he still packed some serious muscle and authority. When he screams “GET TO DA CHOPPA!!!” you better listen.
Yesterday I gave Marcela her book and the letter she gave me, she didn’t say anything and I really don’t care.
I am not Nisa’s friend anymore either because she never cares about my feelings, only hers.
By the way I still really miss Jonas. And I still love him.
In case it’s not beyond obvious at this point, I was (and still am, truth be told) a fan of the dramatic gesture. It wasn’t enough to have Marcela storm out of my 11th birthday party. I couldn’t let her have the last word and wanted her to know the friendship was well and truly over. There was no better way to do this than return a book she lent me along with the letter she had written less than two months earlier asking us to be friends again. Much in the same way the end of a romance is often punctuated with personal belongings being returned, I found that such a gesture gave the end of my friendship with Marcela the gravitas (or, let’s face it, good old fashioned drama) it deserved.
Nisa was my best friend in elementary school, though I was also on shaky ground with her. It’s funny, because I remember being surrounded by friends during those years, but I don’t remember having so many damn conflicts with them. Were my preadolescent social skills that flawed? (Don’t answer that.) Is it common to have frequent quarrels with friends or was I that tempestuous and oversensitive? (Definitely don’t answer that.)
Whatever the case may be, Nisa and I would make up, but this was it for Marcela and me. Which always made me a little sad, because I thought she was so cool; not just because of her perfectly Aqua-Netted bangs, pretty handwriting, and the sassy way she snapped her gum. Marcela and I shared a resemblence, so I sometimes liked to pretend we were sisters. I also admired her sense of humor, smarts, and boldness. But in the end, I think we couldn’t find a way for our strong personalities to mesh. It’s a shame, because we had a hell of a lot of fun when we did get along.
(And let’s not even get into the whole Jonas thing. I’ll spare the excess entries where I’m mooning over him.)